Spokane Journal of Business

Specialty chain erects store at former Cd'A Elmer's site

Natural Grocers to hire 25 workers for opening, more as sales increase

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Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, a Lakewood, Colo.-based specialty grocery chain, plans to open its third Idaho store in Coeur d'Alene next spring, says Merrideth Branscombe, a spokeswoman for the company.

Natural Grocers will hire about 25 employees to open the Coeur d'Alene store, and its workforce likely will grow to at least 50 employees there as sales increase, Branscombe says, adding that the company provides benefits for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week, she says.

The company will begin taking applications for employment on its website in December, she says.

Leadership Circle LLC, of Montrose, Colo., is developing the $2.1 million, 16,000-square foot store, which is under construction at the former Elmer Restaurant site at 222 W. Neider, just south of the Red Lobster restaurant near the southeast corner of Neider Avenue and U.S. 95.

Hayward Builders LLC, of Scottsdale, Ariz., is the contractor on the project, and Vega Architecture, of Denver, designed it. Storhaug Engineering Inc., of Spokane, is the civil engineer.

Meanwhile, the longtime Elmer's Restaurant Inc. franchise operation that had been located at the planned Natural Grocers site moved in August about a half-mile south to 290 W. Appleway. There, Elmer's is operating in a restaurant building formerly occupied by a Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, which closed nearly two years ago.

Natural Grocers, which markets itself with the tagline of "higher standards at lower prices," focuses on natural products such as USDA-certified organic produce, and naturally raised and fed organic meats, Branscombe says.

"We're just as well known for what we don't sell; we don't carry anything with artificial colors, flavors, pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics," she says.

The store chain also doesn't carry alcohol or tobacco products, Natural Grocers' website says.

Natural Grocers doesn't supply paper or plastic shopping bags and encourages customers to bring their own reusable grocery bags, Branscombe says.

Except for small plastic bags used for produce, "We've been (disposable) bag-free since 2008," she says, adding that the store will give away thousands of reusable shopping bags at its grand opening, which is planned for March.

"We will have boxes available for people who forget bags to reuse," Branscombe says.

Natural Grocers also offers free nutritional education and coaching, she says.

The Coeur d'Alene store will have a demonstration kitchen and meeting space where it will offer cooking classes led by national and local speakers, Branscombe says. The kitchen and meeting space also will be available for rent for community events, she says, and company policy allows some service organizations to use the space for free for noncommercial, nonreligious, and apolitical purposes.

The retail chain dates back to 1955 when Margaret and Philip Isely opened their first vitamin, supplement, and whole-foods store in Golden, Colo., and later named the company Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers as it moved its corporate operations to Lakewood, the company's website says. About five years ago, the company flipped its name to reflect its growing inventory of organic and natural foods.

Although Natural Grocers went public last year, the company is still controlled by its founders' children and grandchildren, Branscombe says.

The fast-growing company operates 73 stores in 13 mostly Western and Southwestern states and expects to open another seven stores by year-end, she says.

In Idaho, the company opened a store in Boise in February and will open another in Idaho Falls next month, she says.

Natural Grocers has no stores in Washington state, although one is in the planning stages in Vancouver. Its closest operating stores to Spokane are in Missoula and Kalispell, Mont.

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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